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Monthly Archives: January 2009

“Without a doubt, $18 billion is a lot of money, but it’s a drop in the bucket on Wall Street,” said Gustavo Dolfino, president of the WhiteRock Group, a headhunter for the banks. “These bonuses are down, and the salaries are not enough for these people. They can’t live on $150 to $180,000, so they haven’t saved any money. They put it on credit lines and at bonus time, they thought they’d pay it off.”

Oh, the poor folks just can’t manage on $150K a year.  Pity.  Big Apple is costly.  The irony is they put it on credit lines and thought it would pay off.   I mean the whole damn economy: they sold debt, made their cut, and now the debt isn’t paying out.  And they still want their cut.  Their.  Heads.  Off.

Yesterday, perhaps in a fit of digital dissonance, running against my own hard-earned knowledge and understanding of computer wisdom, I decided to enlarge the OS partition on my computer, to make room for some more software.  On the other partition sat the full edit of SWIMMING IN NEBRASKA.  I momentarily thought I shouldn’t do it, and should wait until the film was all done.  Then instead I loaded up Partition Magic, and commenced.  And of course, in process it hung-up, and I was forced to close down the brutal way, just turning it off.  On opening the partition with Swimming on it wasn’t recognized, though I used some software to sort that, but….   but on attempting to open up the Swimming project I got a “appears to be damaged” notice.  On all of them.  My guess being that in effect the partition is no longer really recognized, at least not by Explorer, so the prproj doesn’t know where it is, and is hence, “damaged.”  So far attempted solutions haven’t solved anything and I am in process of laboriously transfering 300 and some gigabytes to another disk, which for some reason is going very slowly and will take days to finish – all the Swimming files.  Once that is done if I am lucky the project will open up, but I am skeptical.  Meantime I’ll fish around on the net looking for a solution.  Otherwise I will have the distinct pleasure of reconstructing a very technically complex and long film more or less from scratch.  Fortunately I rendered most of the complex things, so I have them, though if I want to change things (which I do) I’ll have to reconstruct the underlying material, effects, etc.     If anyone has any suggestions on how to get the partition which the project is on properly tagged and recognized so I can open it up where it is, I am eager to have them.

No, that is not me burning up the PC, but rather Chinese burning papers for the gods of fortune, a 5th day of Lunar New Year ritual.

In a week we’re off to Singapore, then Malaysia, in part to check out and be checked out at a university there.  Talk and show, some inquiries and maybe a move coming up.  Will go to Kuala Lumpur to visit a filmmaker friend there, and if we can a jaunt into the countryside and/or perhaps an island beach.  Then back for next term here.

But then a bit of cinema.  The other day, at a friend’s apartment, we watched for the first time in 4 decades or so, Godard’s Le Mépris (Contempt).  I vaguely recall it, and it had not been a favorite of my Godard films – I prefered (and still prefer) Vivre Sa Vie, and some of the other earlier, grittier ones.  But this time around I was quite taken with the audacious long simple/complex takes in the apartment, where as in some other films around then, he used architectural space in shots which orchestrate themselves in movements, as in music, breaking the content (bitter exchanges) into passages as a figure disappears into one door, and another materializes elsewhere.  The effect is to have a kind of cutting within a single shot.   The story (thoughts from Phillip Lopate, Rosenbaum, Charles Taylor) typically revolves around filmmaking – in my view Godard’s Achille’s heel – but as usual he uses this as a springboard for a kind of philosophical investigation.  Despite the 60’s decor and clothing, the film is more “contemporary” than the drivel which emits from Hollywood today.

The same evening, for the first time, I got to see Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood, which proved a lovely film, and showed right at the outset the various Tarkovsky cinematic tropes, from long “abstract” tracking shots of floors and other grounded surfaces, to his choice in camera angles and movements.  This packaged in a glorious war movie !  The ending got a bit saccharine for me, and looked perhaps tacked on for the authorities.   Watching such films I find myself jealous, as I do with Japanese ones – for the actors, actors who use their whole being as vehicles for expression, rather than our pathetic Americans who generally fail to do so – all face and hands and voice.

To round out a “cultural” week we went with a few friends a bit out of Seoul to the Nam June Paik Museum.  It’s housed in a handsome very contemporary building, a rather sizable place.   There were inside a good fistful of Paik pieces, all of which merely underlined for me the fraudulence of a good sector of the arts world.  I never thought much of Paik, and nothing here changed my view, but rather reinforced it.  The rest of the museum’s displays seemed intended to make Paik appear more than his work, by showing him with various luminaries of the 1950-1980’s arts firmament, and hence rubbing their glory off onto him: Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Josef Beuys and other lesser lights, Otto Muehle, the Fluxus grup.  There were pictures and video tapes of these, doing happenings and otherwise acting arty.  I didn’t like this back then, and the passage of some decades has not put any gloss on it.   Rather the opposite.

Josef Beuys “art”

There were a few things that were of interest, though I wouldn’t call them “art.”   One was a delay TV of yourself coming up a stairway, run through a “warp” so your own figure wobbled or acted otherwise distorted according to the speed at which you went.  This was amusing.  The other was a very long piece of something like audio tape in an enclosed space with strong fans in the center blowing outwardly – the tape floated and dipped with the wind, held aloft for a dance some 20 feet or so wide.  You could dip under and go inside.  This too was amusing and delightful.  But “art?”  Not in my book.

Jobless Claims Jump to Record, Durable Orders Slide

Obama Calls Wall Street Bonuses ‘Shameful’

Few Ways to Recover Bonuses to Bankers

Meanwhile in Paris the wizards of haut couture carry on, making goods for the above mentioned banker’s female objects:

And off not so far away from these Parisian catwalks, is another place, the Gaza strip, where the attire is decidedly different:

Needless to say the American economic crisis, like most things American, impacts much of the rest of the world.  With some deliberate and carefully orchestrated policies, America took upon itself the role of prime consumer of the globe, and other nations fed us, running up our debt.  More deviously, American corporations looking to better their bottom lines and enrich their CEO’s, shifted American jobs to cheaper, less regulated realms, and encouraged newly impoverished Americans to continue their spending binge, using credit cards, phony mortgage wealth, and what not, to keep the wheels of profiteering rolling.  Now the jig is up, and in a last heist the bankers have just waltzed off with another 350 billion of taxpayer’s money, tossing themselves bonuses for a job well done – the country may be up shit’s creek, but they all have scampered with literally billions of usable taxpayer dollars, convertible into actual tangibles (at least for the moment), and it appears there’s not really any legal means for Uncle Sam to recoup the theft.  Indeed in their view a job exceedingly well done – they made billions, trillions for themselves, and as a final pay-off, in order to “rescue the system” they received another little bonus of $350,000,000,000 of public funding, just to make their retirement a little less difficult.   This was done in plain sight, with their man Paulson hustling the Congress for instant no-accountability funds or the system would fail.       It had already failed, and tossing more money at it merely compounded the failure, though it has surely further enriched the perpetrators a lot more.

Perhaps it is time for vigilante justice?

U.S. President George W. Bush re-enters the White House East room to say goodbye to staff and friends after his primetime address in Washington, January 15, 2009. Bush on Thursday defended his actions to avert a collapse of the financial system and protect America from another terrorist attack as he mounted a farewell bid to polish his troubled legacy. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES)

The Lunar Calendar used here in Asia has rolled around, full moon tonite (Jan 27th), and it’s the start of another year, the Year of the Ox.   According to the papers, astrologists in China, joining economists, say its going to be a bum year.  Certainly the signals of economic collapse are all around, a surprise for some, but anticipated now for some years by this soul.   It didn’t take a crystal ball or star gazing to figure it out – it just took a cold-eyed look at what was in front of our collective noses, along with a side-long glance at certain socio-economic data, to see that something was drastically amiss.   CEO’s pulling in 100’s of millions, Wall Street “bonuses” of billions, trade deficits up the kazoo, shoddy McMansions popping up like mushrooms across the landscape for 1.5 million a pop, $5 Starbuck coffee; transparent corruption all over the place, particularly in that booming military-industrial sector.  And the plastic frauds of government and business leering out from the TV, telling you all was hunky-dory, just A-OK, you betcha.

Don’t get gored by this particular Ox year, but likely it’s going to be rough.  More so than you can imagine.  Or than a young friend of Marcella’s who came by 2 days ago, a ripe 22, who just could not conceive of what is going on, having been raised through this glossy period of utter decadence which to him all seemed perfectly normal.   He figured it was all media hype (rather, than as it has been for a few years, media suppression of “the awful truth”), and that after a bump in the road things will sort out and be back on more or less the same road.  In for a rude awakening, I am afraid.

Meantime here’s an interesting-if-long look at pics of the Bushed era, a conversation with Errol Morris.

Preceding the lead-off photo were these:

Looks like somehow that old faux Texas swagger has left him, and he looks, frankly, “Bushed.”   Now if a shred of justice exists in this world, following the cranking of some time and political fudging, as the economic collapse heightens the realization of what a truly catastrophic mess this man and his men and women facilitators, have left us in, step-by-step the move to try and convict them for innumerable crimes, not to mention moral turpitude, Mr Bush will either find himself in Den Haag on trial for war crimes, or will discover that he is imprisoned in his own house, it being too dangerous for him to exit.   A failure on the part of America to purge itself, legally and Constitutionally, by bringing George W. Bush, Richard Cheney and numerous others to trial for illegal and unconstitutional actions while in office, will leave us permanently stained, and utterly discredited in the broader world.   Failure would leave us not merely morally stained, but would signal a terminal disease of our political fabric, in which the destruction of the rule of law – always tenuous in the real world – would be inevitable.   We do not have a choice to evade this out of political niceness or convenience; we have a moral, political and legal duty to do so, or to admit that our Constitution is a fraud, and that it’s binding social contract is an illusion intended to serve those for whom the law is but a tool to fuck the public.

Thanks to the New York Times, here’s a collection of lovely drawings, of a wide variety (though it comes nowhere near modern times) which illustrates how a simple artistic craft can take such wide forms if one only works with it.  Any film or video-maker, or any artist in any form – writing, music, dance – could learn a good bit from looking at these with some care.  And then:

 

matisse_drawing_with_scissorspicasso-stravinski

 


Matisse, Picasso, Matisse, Hockney, Vilja Celmins, Sol Lewitt, James Turrell

Of Time and the City

Terrence Davies’ new film, a documentary on Liverpool.   I have really loved some of his things, particularly Distant Voices, Still Lives.   I saw one, made in US deep south that was, well, a mess.  Some artists, and he is surely one of this kind, are lost when they leave aside something deeply personal.  In this case he comes from Liverpool, and a particular sector – working class.  And he needs that.  I’d love to see this one.  NYT review.

It’s being distributed by Strand Releasing, which did my All the Vermeers in New York.  Marcus Hu and John Gerrans – they’ve hung in all this time !

editor@nytimes.com; letters@nytimes.com

Sirs:

Regarding Thomas Friedman’s commentary,Time for (Self) Shock Therapy, may we ask where he was when the Bush administration set the tone and national example for utter dishonesty and dissembling to the American public with its claims of WMD in Iraq, of connections between Iraq and al Qaeda, of the utility of outsourcing US jobs to low labor cost regions, etc.?  Here was Mr Friedman with regard to the non-existent WMD following his eager and heavy support for the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq: “As far as I’m concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war.”

Will Mr Friedman ever make the connection that dishonesty and illegality at the highest levels of government necessarily is reflected directly in other institutions of the culture, particularly those which are most closely tied with interests in that government?  Like banks, military contractors, and the many other transparent malefactors of our times?  Or that dishonesty on the part of public commentators such as himself leads to a generalized social acceptance of corruption be it fiscal, political, ethical and moral?

Mr Friedman should apply the same self-shock therapy he advocates to himself – his opinion shaping efforts of the last years has been directly implicated in the generalized corruption which besets our nation now.

Sincerely

Jon Jost

To try to squeeze a little film-video stuff in here, a few random notes.

A young friend of ours (21 yrs of age), Dahci Ma, Korean filmmaker, was off to New York to pick up her first prize in the Dance Film Festival held last week at Lincoln Center.  Her film, Mysteries of Nature, is a weird kind of dance film, a stunning piece of cinema, far beyond what most people her age are doing.  She has another I saw, about a very crippled man having sex.  Again, stunning and well done.  She stayed with Marcella’s family a bit in Italy when she went to see if Benetton’s Fabrica (a kind of school cum production facility) would have her stay but they passed on it.  She had a good time though with Marcella’s sisters and friends.  Anyway pursuant of this I wrote Jim Stark, once producer for earlier Jarmusch films, thinking he should meet her – little future something.   He responded that sure he could meet, but cautioned he isn’t taking on anything new these days because “the market for my kind of films is gone.”   His kind of film of late included Factotum (Bukowski story, Bent Hamer director, Matt Dillon lead), i.e., a relatively accessible art house movie with commercial qualities, done well.   I had to write back that, as he well knew, the mini-market for my kind of film had disappeared a decade and more ago.

[Note: a quick glance at the trailer seems to show that this "indy" production like most Hwd or otherwise, doesn't seem to have a clue how the characters in it actually live, dress - all set decorated, de-dirted, etc. - for Bukowski, an LA skid-row low-life.  And from the Dargis review, evidently critic dunno either.]

Meantime looking at a new cut of Toshi Fujiwara’s new documentary, Fence.  Saw Part 1 (over an hour) two nights ago, and was pleased with the changes since seeing earlier version.  It is a low-key, meandering film about a small city in Japan in which a former Japanese Naval Ammunition dump is now a US Naval facility, with a nice piece of mountain forest in the middle of it, and no longer accessible to its once-owners and residents.  Toshi lets the facts come out at their own pace, following the threads of a number of diverse stories, weaving together a casual tapestry of social-political reality.  Nothing is forced and we are given space to piece together a sense of the whole.  The changes made since I sent him thoughts on earlier version have worked well and its a much better film now.  I will look at Part 2 tonight.   Though, sadly, I imagine this film is also destined for the “no market” basket.  As evidently his earlier We Can’t Go Home Again, a very wonderful, dense and rich improvised ensemble piece that showed 2 years ago in the Berlin Forum.

Of Home and Munyurangabo, by Lee Isaac Chung, I am hoping to write something for Senses of Cinema‘s next issue.

And of course, Sundance is just starting.  I am curious to see how Leighton Pierce’s installation there fares.

And now back to the two (of 3) time-lines looming on my desk.  See my blog for more on that.

[Next day:  got to see Pt 2 of FENCE and though I found it ran on just a bit too much (he could readily drop the last 12 minutes or so of 80 or so), it was fascinating as the threads of the first part expanded, a critique of American imperialism intertwined with a critique of the Japanese government, all done in a completely natural and organic manner, arising out of the characters in the film who gain in interest as we know more of them.  A very nice film, but unfortunately lacking the gotcha-by-the-balls bombast which those in the "business" think is required to sell.  So alas, Fence will get fenced off into the arty-thinky-you-wouldn't-wanna-see-it corral.]

[If anyone is interested in seeing either of Toshi's films, or Isaac's, contact me and I imagine we can arrange a modest purchase or direct you the right way.]

David Brooks, seemingly everyone’s favorite “conservative” commentator, today published in our dear Gray Lady, another of his nuggets of alleged wisdom.  Therein he explains that, golly, gee, the, or those, conservatives, holding onto their rigid beliefs about the magical market economy, had, as Mr Greenspan recently confessed, fucked up.  Everyone is not rational in their decisions, etc.   So Mr Brooks, a grown man (hard to believe) finally figured out that people don’t actually behave according to classical market theory.  Wow!   He doesn’t say words like “corrupt” and such, god forbid.  Nor does he make a linkage between the adorable Bush administration and its endless litany of total lies – an administration which he, like most of his ilk, fully supported until quite recently.  Nope, not old Dave.  He, like Bush, is not about to take responsibility for anything he thinks he can evade.  After all, he’s got more little crumbs of well-paid wisdoms to toss our way, and should he, like Mr Friedman, or the horrid Mr Kristol, fess up to failure, well they just might lose their job – not that some right-wing “think” tank wouldn’t take them in so as to avoid any drastic changes in accustomed life-styles.  Wouldn’t want our shrill (and in Mr Brooks case, less shrill) PR flacks, to have to suffer for their services on the ideological front lines.

Here’s another not-to-be-published letter to the editor of America’s supposed paper of record:

Editors:

It is amazing that our pundits can weave so many words to explain a fundamental and ancient wisdom such as that humans are selfish and greedy (not to mention other unpleasing qualities).  Mr Brooks, a  so-called “conservative,” in many paragraphs still evades using these words, while challenging the alleged conservative belief that a market economy functions efficiently on its own, better with less or no regulation than with regulation.  Mr Brooks was in full support of a President who lied to the American people about Iraq’s ties to 9/11, about WMD’s, and myriad other things.  The departing administration, with the complicity of the mass media, established a norm of no accountability for total corruption – fiscal, moral, ethical.  And, surprise, surprise, the mavens of Wall Street took this example and emulated it in spades.  Are we surprised?  Is Mr Brooks surprised that an era of complete abdication of responsibility, accountability, and ethics, all under the banner of alleged “Christian” values, has led us to this point?  Can he look himself in the mirror and claim he is blameless?

Sincerely,

And a little next-day addendum, underlining that like the Declaration of Independence says, we have a government of the banks, by the banks, for the banks, never mind what Mr Lincoln said:

The F.D.I.C. announced separately that it would soon propose to extend its guarantee on supporting new consumer lending to 10 years, from 3 years.

“The U.S. government will continue to use all of our resources to preserve the strength of our banking institutions and promote the process of repair and recovery and to manage risks,” regulators said.

As noted earlier and elsewhere, for these folks the most important matter is to keep the system going since they are incapable of imagining any other method of distributing social wealth.  Uh, lessee, I think something like 1% of ‘merkans own-control, uh, like, you know, 80% of the goodies.*  Don’ wanna change that, now do we?  Gotta keep this system, even if sometimes it seems to run outta control.   And note how the despised-by-“conservatives” regulators have now become nice guys, shelling out dough to cover up bank, um, mistakes, errors, miscalculations, now not for the next 3 years, but 10.  So take ‘em up on those juicy credit card offers and mortgage loans for minus % since now Uncle Sam’s gonna bail ‘em for a decade.  Keep it all in the house…

[* This may have changed in the current wealth adjustment phase since a few trillion bucks of "ours" just got tossed to poor little "them."]

In the above NYTimes photo, the character to the left is unidentified.  The one to the right is Ben Bernanke, who in a lecture at the London School of Economics, said: “More capital injections and guarantees may become necessary to ensure stability and the normalization of credit markets.”

The guy he is sitting with is one Gordon Brown, otherwise known as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

That the Gray Lady did not see fit to let us know who he is, and did let us know about Mr Bernanke (Chairman of the Federal Reserve, actually a private bank which to most people appears to be a governmental public bank but is not), would seem to hint at a certain pecking order.

What Mr. Bernanke said is summarized in this headline:

Banks Are in Need of Even More Bailout Money

These are banks the CEO’s of which make umpteen millions each year, dish themselves bonuses, and who, by any reckoning, all failed, and failed miserably.  Well, they failed if the measure is in how their banks performed in social, public terms, and in terms of their shareholders.    If, however, the measure is how well did they, personally, do, then they were successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.   We notice that as they send their emissary to beg for more money, none of them have resigned, been fired, or hauled out back and shot.  Nope, that’s not the way market-economy capitalism works.  In Market Economy capitalism, the top echelons virtually never drop, get fired, lose income, or are otherwise inconvenienced.  We pay them millions and billions because they are the brightest of the brightest, and if we didn’t shell out to them these massive sums, they’d go elsewhere.  And the system would collapse!

So they keep suckering us, while hiding off to their 10th house (remember how many houses, condo’s etc. Mr McCain had?) so far unmolested by the crack of a 30 aught 06 as they go.

Mr. Brown sits at the knee of the Chairman of the Fed because the UK, which until quite recently was flush with the rustle of flowing Sterling, is now shuddering to a halt.  All its eggs were in the “financial services” basket.   They don’t make anything anymore in the UK (sound familiar?) aside from the odd airplane, some military items, and “financial servicing.”   So Mr Brown, formerly the Exchequer of the formerly Blairite cool UK, is behaving, as Mr Blair did with regard to Bush’s Iraqi game, like a nice lap dog, hoping somehow the US Federal Reserve head will help bail him out.

Good luck.

As far as Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is concerned, the much-maligned $700 billion bailout of the financial industry — known to acronym fans as TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) — is a success.

Mr Paulson, when queried just what did this expenditure accomplish, said

“the TED spread” had retreated significantly from the dangerously high levels it had reached at the epicenter of the crisis.

I note for you that the TED spread is not the same as the Craig wide-stance spread of Minneapolis-St.Paul fame.  Nope and not.

The continued high levels of short term spreads compared to their very stable levels of the past suggest that the infusion of billions of dollars into the banks forestalled immediate collapse, as it necessarily would, but has not affected liquidity in credit markets or reassured the capital markets that large financial institutions are strong credits.

Got that?  Hence the hands out “gimme more” of the world’s Bernanke’s.

And so the matter of the discipline of the market, or “moral risk” is flushed down the toilet, and these total fuck-ups, who dress in fancy clothes, eat well, have multiple homes, private jets, etc. etc. etc., now without a blush of shame, ask those recently evicted from their homes, left jobless, and otherwise abused by the magical wonderful Market Economy, to bail them out so they can continue their way of life.

Or, Socialism for the Very Rich When Necessary.  Otherwise, in the language of our soon departing Vice President, “Go fuck yourself.”

And these people constantly ask for “respect.”

Meantime:

Timothy F. Geithner, the president-elect’s choice for Treasury secretary, failed to pay more than $34,000 in taxes early this decade

But, not to worry, it was just a little clerical error.  The government claims that the median US income is $50,233.00, but I would be as skeptical of that figure as its one for unemployment, which allegedly is 7.3% last month, but is far more likely to be something like 15%.  I would bet a reasonable and accurate figure on the median income would land more like $35,000.    So our incoming Treasury Secretary, presumably someone highly acquainted with numbers, tax laws, and such, managed to mess up payment in taxes more or less equivalent to what a normal American earns in a year.  He’d be putative head of the IRS.   He also had, apparently like many quite rich people, a “house-worker” of unknown country working, uh, without proper immigration papers.   A harbinger of things to come?   Maybe Mr Obama can find a more suitable candidate for this office – or is it that all those in the “financial services” sector find themselves above the law, or perhaps they have “other priorities” than complying with the laws they are supposed to manage?

You betcha.

[Update, Jan 15 2009]

Also, Obama’s choice to oversee the IRS flubbed his own tax returns – some of which he had personally prepared – to the tune of $42,700 in back taxes and penalties.

And Geithner decided to pay more than half that amount — $26,000 — only after Obama decided to nominate him, according to finance committee documents.

WANTED

Bank of America is struggling to absorb Merrill Lynch & Co, which it bought on Jan 1. Merrill Lynch suffered significant losses in the fourth quarter.

Bank of America told the government in December that it was unlikely to complete its purchase of Merrill Lynch because of the losses, a person familiar with the matter said. The bank and the government have been speaking since then.

Bank of America and Merrill received $25 billion in October under the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, as did Citigroup <C.N>. Citi required an additional $20 billion of capital in November.

So having received a mere 25 billion to help out, BofA went to buy Merrill Lynch, and had some problems in this expansion, and now they need more newly minute your-future-debt.   Willy Sutton’s response to why he robbed banks is exactly why bankers, the biggest robbers of all, work there:  “Because that’s where the money is.”

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